Tapping into a typically under-served demographic, Pantelion Films, the joint venture between Lionsgate and Mexico’s Televisa, has found a production model that allows them to create content designed to appeal to Spanish-speaking audiences in Mexico, Latin American and the United States.
Following the massive success of Eugenio Derbez’s 2013 dramedy Instructions Not Included, the company decided to veer its projects into a more comedic direction, picking Labor Day weekend as their preferred release date for their top tier releases. Last year, their animated feature Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos opened as one of the top 10 films at the box office that weekend.
This year Pantelion continues to cater to Latinos on both sides of the border with a romantic comedy titled No Manches Frida, the Spanish-language remake of the 2013 German film Fack Ju Göhte by Bora Dagtekin. The story follows ex-convict Zequi (played by comedian Omar Chaparro) as he pretends to be a teacher in a school ridden with troublemakers in order to find a fortune he buried there years prior. Due his experience in prison, Zequi and his unorthodox methods appear to be exactly what the misbehaving pupils need. Lucy (Mexican star Martha Higareda), a dedicated teacher who can’t get her students’ respect, is attracted to the arrogant new teacher. When his secret is unveiled, the two form a partnership to bring order to the institute.
To add to the film’s already-broad appeal, Pantelion enlisted Mexican pop band Reik to compose the movie’s theme song and to participate in its culminating sequence. Band-members Jesús Navarro, Julio Ramirez and Gilberto Marín (better known as Bibi) had to figure out how to write a song that matched their musical identity, as well what the producers needed to cap off the movie.
Reik is currently promoting their latest album Desamor, which includes the song “We Only Have Tonight,” composed for and performed in No Manches Frida. We spoke to them about their work on the film.
Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): As musicians, you get to be creatively free and compose songs that express solely what you want them to. How does the composition process change when you are making a song specifically assigned for a movie?
Julio Ramirez (JR): The biggest difference is somebody is telling you exactly what he wants. Amongst ourselves we can express what we want—we can fool around with our songs—but in this case we were working for a client. It’s like you are creating a tailor-made suit. Movie people have a lot of opinions even if they don’t know about music. That’s both good and bad, because at the end of the day what you want to try to do is make a song for people who don’t know about music, for people who just want to have a good time. Also, they were in a rush—”We need it now!”
When they finally said, ‘”We love the lyrics, we love the song, it’s just want we wanted. We love the beat, the arrangements, the guitars and Jesus’ voice,” that’s when we thought, “OK—perfect.” But it was difficult. It was a hard process.
MM: Considering these constraints and demands from the production, how do you manage to still write a song that’s true to your musical sensibilities?
Jesus Navarro (JN): Even with all that, it was still us writing it, just like all our other songs. As much as you pull strings to try to please the people you are working for in a project like this, you can’t stop being yourself. At the same time, we are in a moment in our careers, and how we work as a band, where we wouldn’t stray too far from what feels right to us. We are not starting out or at a point where we “need” to do certain things—it’s about collaborating so that both sides are happy with the result.
MM: What sort of direction or reference materials did the production give you to use as inspiration while creating the song “We Only Have Tonight?”
JN: They gave us a synopsis of the story.
JR: We only got a synopsis because the last scene hadn’t been shot yet, and that’s the scene in which we appear. They just told us, “Imagine that in the final scene there are in a graduation party—we need a song like this.” Some of the references they used were Imagine Dragons. The good thing was, though, that there is a German version of this film. We watched that film to get an idea of what they were looking for. The most important thing for them was to have the vibe of the song be very upbeat and danceable, but that the lyrics conveyed the idea that these school kids struggled and misbehaved and in the end they overcame challenges and everything is seen through rose-colored glasses. That’s why the lyrics of “We Only Have Tonight” talk about how the worst times are over, and how together the characters can accomplish anything.
MM: Given that Pantelion is known for producing content that appeals to Spanish speakers in Mexico and U.S., as well as those that speak “Spanglish,” did the producers ask for the song to be in both languages, or was that something that came naturally to you?
JN: That developed because the people that we made the song for are gringos. So when we were recording the song, we decided to keep those English lines. The Pantelion guys loved it.
JR: It was cool because in our new album, Desamor, we have a song that’s literally called “Spanglish,” so this song on No Manches Frida, “We Only Have Tonight,” helps the album have balance. These two songs play off of each other.
JN: With both the songs there is a way for us to say, “We are going to start playing with this a little bit more, in terms of the languages.”
MM: What do you think of the partnership or cross-promotion between film and music? It seems to help both segments of the industry by maximizing appeal and exposure.
JN: Everybody wins. Cross-promotion between music and film is something that’s done constantly in the United States, and in Mexican cinema it happens, but with more obscure or indie films. To have an opportunity like this in a mainstream film that can reach a massive audience is amazing. It’s also great that Mexico is producing more “Pop Cinema,” to coin a term, like this film, which will hopefully be a blockbuster. It’s entertaining, it’s lighthearted, and just nice.
MM: You’ve had cameos on soap operas and now are actually on screen in No Manches Frida. As musicians what’s the strangest part about being on a film set? Is it comparable to shooting a music video?
Gilberto Marin (GM): It’s not really strange; we can compare it to making a music video in the sense that when you get to set, you are there for hours and hours, you repeat each scene 700,000 times, and you hear the song 8 million times. All that is different from what we are used to doing on a daily basis, which is being on stage at a concert or in the studio recording new material. After 12 years of making music videos, we find it fun, but they are extremely long days. Fortunately, we haven’t actually been asked to act. As you saw in the film, in the scene in which we appear, we are doing the same thing we always do. We are pretending to be at a concert. In this particular case it was a lot more fun because there were many more people involved, the lead actors of the film were there, and we all got along. Those were good long hours.
JR: Another difference is that when we make a music video, we don’t get to see it on the big screen at a movie theater. When you watch it on a big screen you realize how huge it could be for us. My dad watched this film with me, and soon my friends and other family members will see us in this film, and I think a lot of people will see us in this new facet. We had only been on screen many years ago, when we released our second album, but this one is particularly special because we close the film and we are really on camera, performing the song we made specifically for the film.
MM: Since No Manches Frida is a film about misbehaving school kids, I’m curious to know: What kind of students were you when you were younger?
JN: To be honest, I was a really good student. I wasn’t on the honor roll but I always got good grades. I never failed [laughs].
GM: I was a good kid as well. 100 percent. I was one of those kids that sided with the teachers. I was their ally. I wouldn’t let other kids copy my homework.
JN: I would copy and I would let them copy me, but I wouldn’t create any conflicts.
JR: I was also a really good student. I would do well but I didn’t overdo it. My parents and the teachers were happy. MM
No Manches Frida opens in theaters September 2, 2016 courtesy of Pantelion Films. Photographs by Daniel Daza, courtesy of Pantelion Films.